Four ways we sink ourselves


What's weighing you down? Use these tips to let go of the attitudes and behaviors that keep you from moving upward and reaching your career goals.

"I'm so out of here!" Tracy chants as she drives into the parking lot of the No Can Tell Animal Hospital. After eight years with the practice, she's decided it's time to find a new job. Last week was the clincher. Dr. Teague hired a new technician and made him the team leader. Now he's Tracy's supervisor! It's bad enough that she was passed over for the position. "Now some new know-it-all's going to come in and change everything," Tracy thinks. "This just won't work."

Dr. Teague was honest with Tracy when he explained that she'd sabotaged her own candidacy for the team leader position. He squirmed when he told her she wasn't doing as good a job as she thought. "You're not ready for the position," he said. "Clients sometimes tell me you're curt or abrupt, and you don't have any experience supervising others." These were valid reasons.

"If only we'd planned for Tracy to move toward this position," Dr. Teague thought. "I didn't know she had any interest in a promotion."

Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT

It happens every day. Team members don't realize their full potential in the practice, and managers and practice owners don't offer the support that helps team members build their careers. What's weighing you down? Consider this list of common mistakes and solutions to launch your career in the right direction.

We assume we're meeting our manager's expectations

Shocked. That's the best way to describe Angela's reaction after meeting with the new practice manager. The practice owner had hired Angela two years earlier and only on rare occasions did he offer feedback. Even then, he never uttered much more than, "It's OK." Then after just 90 days with the practice, the new practice manager met with Angela privately and told her that her performance and punctuality needed to improve—or she could lose her job.

Angela assumed that no feedback meant everything was fine. Oh, yes, I know what you're thinking. It's appropriate for an owner or manager to regularly discuss a team member's performance and share his or her expectations for the position. But when her boss didn't offer feedback, Angela didn't initiate these conversations. She sabotaged herself when she didn't ask her boss what he expected from her.

Expectations are difficult to meet when you don't know what your manager expects. The doctor's or practice manager's expectations define and provide structure around positions in a clinic. Do you know what your manager expects? How does your view of your job expectations match with your employer's expectations? (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1 Define your expectations

If you're not sure what your manager expects, it's time to ask. Don't be nervous. Remember what you and your employer have in common. You both want to work at a practice that offers great client service and high-quality patient care with a team that works together effectively. Taking the initiative to ask for feedback demonstrates your commitment to these goals. To get started, try one of these approaches:

  • "I've been reviewing how we work together, Dr. Smith, and I'd like some feedback on ways I can build on my current skills ..."

  • "I was reading about how job evaluations are an effective way to share expectations. I have an example of one. Could you review it with me?"

  • "What do you think I do well? What areas should I focus on to improve?"

We forget the most important rule

"I really like veterinary medicine because I'd rather work with animals than people," says Trisha, a team member at Anything Goes Animal Hospital. Beth, the head technician, stares in stunned silence at Trisha. Finally, she manages to respond: "Have you noticed that every time you make that statement you're speaking to a person and not a pet? Most of our work involves people," Beth says.

Successful team members develop the skills to communicate with each other, build strong relationships, and educate clients effectively. Clients expect competency in medicine; it's the doctors and team members who make pet owners feel good about their pets' care and keep them coming back.

Chart your course

Team members who forget that we serve people to serve pets limit themselves and their ability to help pets. Jane Shaw, DVM, PhD, director of the Argus Institute at Colorado State University, writes, "The field of communication in veterinary medicine is gaining momentum as veterinary professionals realize the importance of effective communication skills. Veterinary professionals need to develop a communication skills toolbox, so that they're ready to handle any situation, whether it's a routine check-up, giving a difficult diagnosis to a client, or helping pet owners through tough end-of-life issues, including euthanasia." Bottom line: If you're not building effective communication skills that help you educate clients and work with colleagues, you're sabotaging your career.

We assume we're doing our jobs well because we've worked at the practice for a while

"But I've been at this practice 12 years," Debbie shouts back at Dr. Smith. Ask her co-workers and they'll tell you that Debbie should've been fired years ago. Over time, she's become complacent. She hasn't kept up with new information, she's arrogant, she doesn't listen to clients, and she only does enough to get by, leaving many tasks to her team members. Over time, this has become her default approach to her job.

Dr. Smith agonized over firing Debbie, but after several conversations it's become clear that Debbie refuses to change her behavior. Debbie sunk herself when she forgot that there's no room for complacency in veterinary practice. With so much new information and increasing client expectations, we must constantly strive to learn, grow, and evolve.

9 signs your boats sprung a leak

As D. Blocher said, "Learning is not a spectator sport." It's up to you to take charge of your career and your future. So look for opportunities to learn and grow, whether it's tackling your practice's inventory problems by learning the latest software or taking behavior training classes so you can offer this service to clients.

We don't have a plan

If you don't have a plan, any road will take you there. Remember Tracy, who applied for the team leader position at the practice where she worked for eight years? When the position was offered to someone else, Tracy was surprised. Dr. Teague had to tell her that she didn't have the skills to fill the position, and with some training she might be qualified in the future.

What's your plan? What do you want to do to continue to grow in the direction you've chosen? First, consider how you will manage elements that keep you from achieving success. For example, do you need to learn to manage your stress better? Maybe you need to attend classes or training to achieve the education you need for your dream job. Or perhaps you need to find strategies to balance your career and home activities to achieve a healthy life balance. Then think about how you can do more of what you enjoy in your job. It can all happen; all you need is a plan. (See "Chart Your Course".)

Managers, this is a great place to get involved. When you help team members think about how to achieve their career goals at your practice—instead of somewhere else—they're more likely to stick with your practice longer.

Look at your status. Are you going through the motions every day or are you growing and improving your skills? Is your view of your job performance based on your supervisor's expectations or do you assume everything's OK because no one's complained to you? Where do you want to be in five years? What are you doing to make sure you'll be ready to reach that goal? You're responsible for your future. With the right plan, you're ready to let go of the assumptions that weigh you down and sail toward the path to success.

Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a consultant with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Co-author Dorene Manvitz is an administrative assistant with VMC Inc. Please send your questions or comments to

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